Oil leak on massive pipeline pushing tar sands through the Great Lakes

Enbridge Energy has just reported that their Alberta Clipper tar sands pipeline is being shut down because they have spilled over 5000 gallons of oil. The spill happened in Saskatchewan, Canada, and it is not yet clear what has caused the leak. Enbridge has reported that the spill occurred at one of their pumping stations but some of the oil has sprayed onto nearby private property.

This latest spill is yet another example on why Enbridge should focus a lot more time on pipeline safety instead of rushing and pushing through massive amounts of pipeline expansion projects throughout Canada and the US.

In fact, Enbridge is currently trying to gain approval in both canada and the US to expand the Alberta Clipper pipeline. They want to increase pressure on this pipeline from 450,000 barrels per day to 880,000 barrels per day!

The Alberta Clipper tar sands pipeline is the beginning point for all the Enbridge expansions throughout the Great Lakes, which will make the largest freshwater system, in the world, a super highway for transporting and refining tar sands. Enbridge is even one of the companies behind the recent proposal to ship tar sands, via tankers, throughout the Great Lakes.

All of these expansions are being rushed through despite the fact that Enbridge still has no idea how to clean up tar sands and Enbridge definitely doesn’t want you to realize that US regulators, PHMSA, still has a corrective action order out on the Lakehead System, which is the entire pipeline system that transports tar sands throughout the Great Lakes. This corrective action order says:

The Original CAO noted that the history of failures on Respondent’s Lakehead Pipeline system, the defects originally discovered during construction of Line 14, a 2007 failure on Line 14, and the July 2010 failure on Line 6B in Marshall, Michigan, and additional failures throughout all parts of the Lakehead System indicate that Respondent’s integrity management program may be inadequate. PHMSA has communicated its longstanding concerns about this pattern of failures with Respondent over the past several years. Given the nature, circumstances, and gravity of this pattern of accidents, additional corrective measures are warranted.

Despite this unprecedented corrective action order, and several failures since, PHMSA is still allowing Enbridge to expand many pipelines along the Lakehead system, including a 60-year-old pipeline that runs under the Straits of Mackinac.

There are several easy online action tools that allow you to reach out to the decision makers behind these proposals. Please consider taking a few moments to fill these out to show your opposition to the major risk Enbridge continues to build in the Great Lakes.

Contact the Department of State and let them know that Enbridge should not be allowed to increase pressure on the Alberta Clipper pipeline. 

Also, please contact your US Senator and let them know that Enbridge should never be allowed to increase pressure on a 60-year-old pipeline that runs through the heart of the Great Lakes.

UPDATE: This spill has been confirmed to be heavy tar sands and Enbridge has restarted the pipeline. No information has been released regarding the cause of the leak. You can no view photos of the spill by JOHN W. MURRAY HERE.

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U.S. Senators receive jibber jabber from pipeline safety agency

U.S. Senators receive jibber jabber from pipeline safety agency

The current conditions at the Straits of Mackinac. Proof enough that all efforts should be focused on preventing a spill because any response will fail.

The current conditions at the Straits of Mackinac. Proof enough that all efforts should be focused on preventing a spill because any response will fail.

Last month I thanked Senator’s Durbin, Stabenow and Levin for taking the first steps needed to ensure the Great Lakes are protected from a 60-year-old oil pipeline running through the Straits of Mackinac owned by Enbridge Energy.

The Senators wrote a letter to the federal agency that oversees pipeline safety (PHMSA) basically demanding transparency on the integrity of the Mackinac Pipeline.

This request is not just lip service by the Senators to appease concerns of their constituents. Sadly, our region (and frankly the nation) has been plagued with examples on why we should be concerned about this pipeline. The largest example being the massive rupture from Enbridge’s Line 6B three years ago, which is still being cleaned up to this day. If you want a quick glimpse into the history of this company in our region, check out this video (FF to the 1 min mark).

Despite the clear need for overall pipeline safety reform, this past summer Enbridge  took steps to increase pressure on the 60-year-old pipeline, through the Straits of Mackinac, so they can export more oil into eastern Canada. The most alarming piece to this story is how little PHMSA seemed to require of Enbridge in order for the increase in pressure. As far as I’ve been able to uncover, the only testing PHMSA required of Enbridge is two small hydrotests in sections of the pipeline nowhere near the Straits crossing.

Well, PHMSA is (yet again) in a position where they feel the need to defend themselves.  You can read the jibber jabber response to the Senators here or feel free to skip ahead to my top 5 takeaways:

  1. PHMSA underscores they have had to hold Enbridge’s hand on pipeline safety for the past 3 years and they are working with Enbridge to continue required improvements.
  2. In order for the public to see any level of detail on those improvements, PHMSA will need a Freedom of Information Act request. Thank you very much!
  3. PHMSA is talking with the spill response agencies and they’ve got this..don’t you worry.
  4. PHMSA does ‘t really care about the Maximum Allowable Operating Pressure (MAOP) on this 60-year-old pipeline because Congress told them in 2011 they don’t have to… gotcha there.
  5. PHMSA doesn’t exactly have all the information requested so we’re going to spend the next couple months asking for it from Enbridge..we’ll get back to you.

As you might have picked up, this isn’t my first rodeo. The National Wildlife Federation has submitted a second FOIA to PHMSA for information proving the integrity of this pipeline, which hasn’t even gotten a response other than PHMSA needing more time.

If this 60-year-old pipeline just increased in pressure, and PHMSA just reviewed information verifying the pipeline’s safety, what is the hold up?

More to come.

Underwater footage of the Mackinac Pipeline suspended across the Straits. By NWF

Underwater footage of the Mackinac Pipeline suspended across the Straits. By NWF